Over a twenty year span, starting when Prozac came on the market in 1987, the number of people on government disability due to mental illness went from 1.25 million to more than 4 million today. There has been a 35-fold increase in the number of children disabled by mental illness who receive federal disability payments, rising from 16,200 in 1987, to 561,569 in 2007.
These statistics come from a new book titled, "Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness, in America," by award winning journalist, Robert Whitaker, who also authored "Mad in America."
For the book, Whitaker reviewed 50 years of outcomes in the medical literature, for adults with schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, and bipolar illness, and the childhood disorders of ADHD, depression and juvenile bipolar disorder, to see whether medications had altered the long-term course of the disorders and whether drugs could bring on new or more severe psychiatric symptoms.
His intent was to assess whether this paradigm of care increased the risk that a person would become chronically ill, or ill with disabling symptoms, he reports in his "Mad in America" blog, on the Psychology Today website.
"Although we, as a society, believe that psychiatric medications have "revolutionized" the treatment of mental illness, the disability numbers suggest a very different possibility," he wrote in the April 28, 2010, Huffington Post.
On April 29, 2010, Alternet published an interview with Whitaker by Dr Bruce Levine, with the headline question of, "Are Prozac and Other Psychiatric Drugs Causing the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America?"
The "literature is remarkably consistent in the story it tells," Whitaker told Levine. "Although psychiatric medications may be effective over the short term, they increase the likelihood that a person will become chronically ill over the long term."
"In addition, the scientific literature shows that many patients treated for a milder problem will worsen in response to a drug-- say have a manic episode after taking an antidepressant -- and that can lead to a new and more severe diagnosis like bipolar disorder," he said. "That is a well-documented iatrogenic pathway that is helping to fuel the increase in the disability numbers."
During the interview, Whitaker discusses his research on the increase of juvenile bipolar disorder in the US, as an example of how prescribing psychiatric drugs to children can actually cause mental illness.
"When you research the rise of juvenile bipolar illness in this country, you see that it appears in lockstep with the prescribing of stimulants for ADHD and antidepressants for depression," he reports.
"Prior to the use of those medications, you find that researchers reported that manic-depressive illness, which is what bipolar illness was called at the time, virtually never occurred in prepubertal children," he explains.
"But once psychiatrists started putting "hyperactive" children on Ritalin, they started to see prepubertal children with manic symptoms," he reports.
"Same thing happened when psychiatrists started prescribing antidepressants to children and teenagers," Whitaker says. "A significant percentage had manic or hypomanic reactions to the antidepressants. "
"Thus, we see these two iatrogenic pathways to a juvenile bipolar diagnosis documented in the medical literature," he states.
The bipolar kids often end up on cocktails of heavy-duty drugs, including antipsychotics such as Zyprexa, Risperdal, Invega, Seroquel, Abilify and Geodon, which cause a host of physical problems and possible cognitive decline over the long term, he told Levine.
"When you add up all this information, you end up documenting a story of how the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in the United States have been destroyed in this way," Whitaker says.